As a young minister of the gospel, many of the greatest lessons I’ve learned about faithful ministry were not always learned in the seminary classroom, from a conference, or from a scholar, but over a cup of coffee with a seasoned pastor.

While I certainly do not discount the value of seminary education, conference attendance, and other academic endeavors, the reality is that there are some things that can only be learned from men who have weathered the storms of life and ministry and can testify of both the glories and tribulations therein.

On Pastoring by H.B. Charles, Jr. reminds me of those wisdom-laden conversations I’ve been privileged to have with my own pastor and other fathers in the faith that have been formative in my development. On Pastoring is sage advice from a time-tested, battle-hardened solider who has been on the frontline of pastoral ministry for his entire adult life.

Yet, On Pastoring (like its predecessor On Preaching), is candid and conversational in tone as H.B. shares his insights gathered from over 25 years of pastoral ministry. The approachable nature makes this book accessible to pastors and ministers of any educational level and is brimming with jewels of wisdom. It is divided into three sections: The Pastor’s Heart, The Pastor’s Leadership, and The Pastor’s Public Ministry.

The Pastor’s Heart
The first section seeks to speak to the type of disciple the pastor should be. Outside of the duties, responsibilities, and calling of being a pastor, H.B. seeks to first establish that, “a pastor is first and foremost a Christian.” In this section, I found chapter 7, entitled “Play Where the Coach Puts You!” very encouraging.

As H.B. points out, it is easy to become distracted by the ministry of your dreams, rather than being focused on the ministry of your present reality. H.B. makes the convincing case that we ought to be thankful that the Coach has chosen to play us at all, rather than griping about what position He has called us to play.

The Pastor’s Leadership
The second section deals with a variety of leadership concerns, from mentoring immature ministers to having patience in guiding your church through major transitions. This section is filled with wisdom that was clearly learned by going through the school of the hard knocks. In this section, I found chapter 15, “Is it Really Worth It? Handling Quarrels and Conflicts Within the Church,” to be immensely helpful. In this chapter, H.B. shares wisdom to help pastors know which conflicts to engage and which conflicts to avoid. This chapter can be summed up in Charles’ pithy quote, “A dog can whip a skunk any day, but it may not be worth the stink.”

The Pastor’s Public Ministry
The third and final section deals primarily with the pulpit ministry of the pastor, its place in the life of the church, and preaching as the pastor’s primary function. My favorite chapter in the section (and one of my favorite chapters in the book) was the final chapter, “Lessons I’ve Learned Along the Way.”

This chapter is very simple, yet impactful. It is simply a list of tweetable phrases that H.B. has accumulated over the years that sum up what he has learned over his pastoral career. In many ways, I feel this chapter was worth the cost of the book. It is short sayings and phrases like this that often come to mind when I recall conversations with my pastors. These proverbs of pastoral wisdom boil down years of experience into bite sized nuggets. This chapter is gold. Here are some examples:

  • Just because there is a crowd does not mean there is a church.
  • People will remember how you treat them long after they have forgotten your sermons.
  • Ministerial success cannot be determined by the size of a pastor’s congregation.
  • The power is in the pulpit. Change does not happen by your shrewd leadership. It happens by faithfully preaching the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.
  • Your wife and children are your most important church members.
  • It is your job to fill the pulpit. It is God’s job to fill the pew.

If I had to offer a critique of On Pastoring, it would simply be this: I wish it were longer. H.B. states upfront that the book is not meant to be an exhaustive treatise and he even includes an incredibly helpful “For Further Reading” appendix with valuable and timeless works on pastoral ministry. Still, one cannot help but be left wanting more of H.B.’s deep well of pastoral wisdom.

Overall, On Pastoring is an incredibly helpful, accessible, and practical book for the practicing and aspiring pastor. I highly recommend this work to anyone seeking to glean from years of faithful pastoral ministry. It’s like having a cup of coffee with your pastor.